The Sex Offenders Registration Act 2004 (Vic) has been in place for the last 10 years. Its purpose is so that the names of certain sexual offenders be recorded in a Register of Sex Offenders. This means the police and courts have a record of people who have conditions placed upon them which limit their ability to work in certain industries, live in certain areas, and have contact with certain people.
The Act requires offenders to keep police informed of their whereabouts and personal details for a period of time, to reduce the likelihood that they may commit another sexual offence. It also prevents registered sex offenders from working in child-related employment.
Being included on the Register of Sex Offenders is an extremely serious and restrictive punishment. Although you may not be imprisoned while on the Register, you may be subject to other limitations on your freedom. You may not be able to live in or visit an area that is close to a school. You might also need to report regularly to the police. There could be restrictions on your ability to travel, especially to countries where sexual offences and sexual servitude are a known risk. Depending on the severity and frequency of the offending, you may be required to report to the police for any time between four years and the rest of your life.
Background and the Law
The Act makes it mandatory for adults who are convicted of committing a sexual offence toward children to be included in the Register. Young offenders and adults who commit offences toward other adults are not automatically included. However, it is at the court’s discretion for these offenders to be made to abide by reporting obligations if they pose a serious risk to the safety of the community.
These restrictions are very onerous, but are maintained in order to reduce sexual offences, especially serious sexual offences and offences against children. Recently, the government has accepted the Sex Offenders Registration Amendment Act 2014, which has made multiple amendments to the 2004 Act. The amendments have not relaxed the laws, but have tightened them, making certain reporting obligations and residency issues even more restrictive on sex offenders.
The amendments were recommended by the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) after a Victoria Ombudsman report highlighted concerns with the contact between sexual offenders and children. The report found that there was a failure to inform new spouses or partners of a sexual offence history. This meant that sexual offenders were able to live with a new spouse or partner, and any existing children, without the spouse or partner’s knowledge that the offender had a sexual offence history.
The Ombudsman made two clear recommendations:
- That the meaning of the requirement that registered sex offenders report ‘regular unsupervised contact’ with children be reviewed, and
- That the power of police officers to test the veracity of the information that registered sex offenders provide also be reviewed.
The VLRC reviewed these issues, as well as other aspects of the Act, culminating in new changes to the existing 2004 Act. The result is a series of amendments that have been made to enhance child protection in the community.
The subsequent amendments have placed an even greater burden on sexual offenders, and their already restrictive reporting and living conditions have been added to by the amendments.
As of 1 June 2015, the following amendments to the Sex Offenders Registration Act are effectively in place and operational in Victoria:
- The police now have the power to warn parents and guardians of children that their new spouse or partner is a registered sex offender. If the police are concerned about the safety of a child who is in contact with a registered sex offender, the parent/guardian may be warned about their new partner’s sexual offence convictions.
- There are now greater restrictions on registered sex offenders looking to travel outside Australia. Under the new section 21A of the Act, offenders must now verify their itinerary and movements when travelling. The amendments hope to restrict the ability of registered sex offenders to travel to zones with known child sex tourism activity, and help investigating agencies track the movements of offenders when in those areas. This is to ensure the safety of children outside of Australia, as well as within.
- A failure to report changes in circumstances for registered sex offenders may now lead to an indictable offence under the amended section 46. The same applies under the amended section 47 for deliberately misleading police about any changes in a sex offender’s circumstances.
- Registered sex offenders also now only have 7 days, as opposed to the previous 14 days, to report any changes in their circumstances to police. This includes any change in address or living conditions.
- The amendments have also reduced the period of time registered sex offenders are able to travel interstate before telling police. The previous deadline under section 18(1)(a) of the Act was 14 days, but has now been reduced to just 2 days. The same has been amended in section 19(1)(a).
- The amendments have removed the requirement that sex offenders’ files be destroyed after they have been removed from the register. This means even once off the register, the police may retain documents relating to your sex offence conviction, including fingerprints, scans and photographs. This is particularly prudent for historical sex offence matters.
- The definition of “contact” with children has been expanded to include irregular contact with children, and contact via online or social media methods. A new section 4A gives a list of examples where a person has contact with a child. As a result, registered sex offenders cannot communicate with children in online chat rooms and other social media outlets without reporting the contact to police.
- New initial reporting conditions are now also in place. The amended section 14 of the Act now requires a registered sex offender to report the name, age, address and telephone number of each child he or she has had unsupervised contact with. This is a drastic change from the previous law where registered sex offenders only needed to do this if they had unsupervised contact with a child over a 3 day period in any given 12 month period. As a result, any contact must now be reported to police.
What it means
The amendments to the Sex Offenders Registration Act 2004 (Vic) are intended to ensure the safety of children and the broader community by further restricting the ability of registered sex offenders to interact with children in certain circumstances. The amendments are also designed to ensure the safety of children overseas by requiring registered sex offenders to report places they intend to visit.
In conjunction with all the other amendments introduced by the 2014 Act, the new laws have further restricted the ability of registered sex offenders to interact with the broader community. While these new laws have onerous implications on those on the Register, they are often justified by attempts to further ensure the safety and wellbeing of children in the community.
While these new laws may in some ways seem unfair, they are intended to deter any future offending, as well as punish previous offending. As a result, registered sex offenders must now abide by these new laws before being removed from the Register and interacting freely within society.
What you should do
If you have been charged with a sexual offence, such as indecent assault, sexual assault or rape, you should seek expert legal advice from a criminal lawyer. Especially if you have been charged with any sexual offence against a child, you should seek professional legal advice immediately. As you have seen, having your name put on the Sex Offenders Register is an extremely restrictive punishment. You may also receive imprisonment, as well as a large fine. However, even after a term of imprisonment you may need to comply with certain strict obligations, which limit your ability to function freely in the wider community.
If you have been charged with a sexual offence, or have concerns about your inclusion on the Register and/or any breach of a court order to comply with certain obligations, you should contact an expert criminal defence lawyer immediately.
Dribbin and Brown have specialist sexual offence lawyers in Dandenong, Ringwood, Frankston, Moorabbin and the Melbourne CBD. If you have been charged, or are expecting to be charged with any of the above offences, make an appointment to see one of the solicitors at Dribbin and Brown today.